By Val Hemminger; Westshore Divorce Lawyer and Creator of Be The BEST Divorce Lawyer.
Running a successful law firm is all about being very smart and working hard, right?
Well, not quite. If you want to do right by your clients and enhance your reputation, you’ll also need to master your family law firm practice management.
Like any other business, to grow your family law practice, you need to focus on systemizing the heck out of everything, work on your business, and invest in your operations.
In fact, to have success in life as a lawyer in private practice, you have to nurture, yep, nurture, your successful law practice. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you have to nurture yourself by *NOT* doing things and getting into the habit of delegating. 🤔 But I digress, more on that later!
The contemporary legal landscape isn’t like it used to be.
When I started articling almost three decades ago, the “old boy” lawyers I worked with spoke a lot about great income, great lifestyles, and the ability to always leave the office by 5 or 6 pm.
Over the years, they said, it had gotten harder and harder to create a good living while practicing law. Well, boys (and girls), it is no secret that things have gotten even harder than they were in the 90s.
It doesn’t take someone as bright as a brain surgeon to see that overwork, depression, and stress are rife among lawyers, particularly divorce lawyers. Although our industry and law societies are becoming much more attuned to the fact that there are issues surrounding burnout and poor mental health for lawyers, we still have to do a lot of catching up to ensure that practicing lawyers do not have to suffer needlessly.
The most significant way to do that is to prioritize law firm practice management, whether you are a solo practitioner or work in a larger firm.
As you are reading this, you might be thinking “But where do I start with law firm practice management?!”
Well my lawyer friend, your place to start is right here. These are my top five suggestions for your law firm practice management strategies. Their purpose is to help you take a step to ease your load and reset your experience of being a divorce lawyer.
So, what are the best strategies for law firm practice management? Click on any one of these quicklinks and you will jump straight to the strategy.
#1; Checklists, precedents and workflows.
#4; Maximize your software’s potential
At my family law firm, we have checklists for, well, pretty much everything. If something has been done more than once, we create a checklist or SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for it. It is the core law firm practice management strategy we have for our business.
Why is this so important? Well, it reduces mistakes and stress.
For example, I remember years ago, long before I understood anything about checklists, workflows, or SOPs, my paralegal (who did ALL the things, including checking the mail) went away on holiday for three weeks. Back then, we were mostly paid by cheque. (It was gruesome and slow!).
So, while she was away, we were in this huge revenue crunch. For my life, I could not figure out why we were so strapped for cash.
Although, at the time, there were three other lawyers besides me, a receptionist, and a second legal assistant, nobody, and I mean not one of us considered checking the mail. We didn’t even know where the mail key was.
When my paralegal returned from her holiday she asked us why we had not checked the mail because there were so many checks (and bills, of course) sitting and waiting! It seems so obvious in retrospect, but wow, why was there not a simple little checklist setting out the various tasks my paralegal always took care of? So, that is what we started doing.
When we made checklists, workflows, and SOPs an integral part of our law office management, it made things go way smoother. It also decreased everyone's workload, made things more predictable, made us appear smarter, made our clients happier, and gave us more time to have fun.
It is often stressful for solo family law practices to think about hiring someone and being responsible for their livelihood. I know this is how I felt. Yet, at some point, it does not make sense for you, a practicing divorce lawyer, to do many of the tasks necessary for running a successful law firm. Are you, paying your bills, booking client appointments, running to the post office, calling couriers, opening files, putting together lists of documents and books of documents? Is this a good use of your time, of which you only have 24 hours per day? Does it not make more sense that you would spend an hour of your time generating revenue at $200 to $450 per hour and paying someone else a fraction of that to do such administrative tasks?
My point is this. Bite the bullet, even if you start with a part-time person or a person by way of contract. It will free you up to do the billable work that generates the revenue you need to succeed.
And while I am at it, I will add that delegating does not have to be solely for law firm practice management. You can delegate many other tasks in your life. Successful lawyers and other successful business people delegate many of their outside of office tasks too.
Here are just some of the things I have delegated, often to the same person. Each is a powerful example of how you can delegate to increase your chance of being a happy divorce lawyer. Like I said, these examples are not related directly to law firm practice management, but they are things I delegated so that I could have the time and space to focus on my law firm as a business:
What are you waiting for if you’re not investing in software solutions to improve your business operations?
For starters, we use Clio for our law firm office management software. For my law firm, when we incorporated Clio and got trained on how to use it, it increased our efficiency by a lot, freed up my support staff from many repetitive tasks, and decreased my firm overhead while increasing my profit margin. Yeah, it is that good, and no they did not pay me to say that!
There are heaps of platforms and software solutions to cut down your stressful administrative work and improve your firm's overall efficiency.
I am regularly blown away when I see how much time and energy is wasted by otherwise very smart people when they do not utilize software efficiently.
Rather than spend time here I cover this idea more fully on this page for divorce lawyers growing their family law practice with software.
Now that you have great software, don’t make the huge mistake of not utilizing it to its best potential.
Because a law firm is a business and it is ever-changing, we have to stay on top of our game in terms of maximizing the software we have invested in.
As with item #3 I look at this issue more here, as I examine the matter of software for divorce lawyers.
There is a very cool book called Who, Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan.
“Watching Clio Training videos" was on my to do list, well, let’s just say for an embarrassingly long time. There were a full eight hours of training videos and by the time I sat down to watch them, I found it so tedious and boring, that I could not even stomach it. Yet, I knew that I had to learn how to use what I had been told was a very powerful piece of software. Finally, after almost two years, we invested in hiring a Clio consultant who
I had a hunch I was not maximizing Clio’s potential, but every time I sat down to watch the videos, I would become instantly bored and felt I had better things to do. Then almost two years later I finally broke down and hired a Clio law practice consultant. I found out I was not utilizing Clio well at all.
This ended up being incredibly costly for my firm even though I did not realize the cost until much later. It is still a work in progress but gee - the leap of understanding has made a fundamental difference to our successful operations and has reduced my anxiety significantly!
The point I am making with the above Clio example is that because I did not want to invest the time, I procrastinated and it cost me and my firm money, time and quality of life.
Have you ever procrastinated because you felt you did not have the time to do something? I'll bet you have! That is why you might want to figure out WHO can help you get something done, rather than figuring out HOW to get something done.
In their book, Who, Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork, Hardy and Sullivan say something so true:
This is how the Elon Musks, Jeff Bezos, and Oprahs of the world leverage their time. In the past it was the Walt Disney's and the Henry Fords.
When you apply the "Who not How" principle to your life, you will quickly discover that leveraging other people's expertise and talent will launch you and your lawyer business success forward. It is what all my work with lawyers wanting to grow their law practices, in my Be The BEST Divorce Lawyer Academy is all about.
Here is the great news. Nowadays, you don't have to figure everything out by yourself. There are countless websites, YouTube tutorials, group programs, coaching, mentoring, and really great books that you can read or listen to.
I am reminded of a story I read in "Think and Grow Rich" the classic by Napoleon Hill.
You have heard of Henry Ford. That guy who invented the car.
Although he was not a successful lawyer in business, Henry Ford left a legacy. He not only invented the car, he utilized the assembly line and created mass production that transformed economies worldwide. Ford introduced the concept of paying workers living wages. He created jobs for immigrants and minorities that flocked to Detroit. He also happened to be a pacifist and openly opposed the world wars which was not always such a popular opinion at the time.
During the first world war, a Chicago newspaper published certain editorials in which, among other statements, Henry Ford was called "an ignorant pacifist." Ford objected and brought suit against the paper for libelling him.
The Chicago paper attempted to justify the comments because it was known that Henry Ford had minimal formal education. He was educated at a local one-room school for eight years. During court proceedings, lawyers trying to prove his ignorance asked a battery of questions he did not specifically know the answer to such as:
"Who was Benedict Arnold?" and "How many soldiers did the British send over to America to put down the Rebellion of 1776?"
Ford became tired of the questioning and is well-known to have stated:
"If I should really WANT to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer ANY question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Now, will you kindly tell me, WHY I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?"
Henry Ford did not use the internet, but he did get the concept of Who not How. Next time you spend time doing something you are not good at, or something that will keep you from generating the revenue so important to your law practice, consider what Henry Ford said, oh so many years ago.